By Enyeribe Ejiogu
NJIDEKA Nwapa-Ibuaka, chief executive of New Generation Resources Consulting, who holds a doctorate degree in Management and Organizational Leadership, is a consultant to reputable Nigerian organization in the Oil and Gas Industry. She also knows firsthand the daunting difficulties of managing a farm business in Nigeria, having closely observed farmers deal with these challenges. The desire to provide farmers opportunity to learn practical solutions and best practices and how to achieve food security drove her to initiate the forthcoming African Agriculture Conference and Expo, which has been endorsed by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, will hold in Abuja.
So tell us about this project? About one year ago, I conceptualized an event which will be an international conference on agriculture and exhibition of agricultural technology. What actually drove me is that my family has a farm, EAA Farms Limited in Oguta, Imo State, which we have had since 1973. I grew up in that farming complex. My grandfather purchased the 33 hectare farm in 1973, but he passed away long ago. My father, who is 85 years old, has been running that farm since he retired from the civil service. Now that he is old, we the children, including myself have been running that farm. The challenges that we face, being female and not professional farmers, it has been very hectic running the farm, giving that we are not really involved in the day-to-day operations of the farm. Primarily, the major challenge has been the lack of funding. We task ourselves to employ, grow crops and manage our livestock. We have a piggery, a fishery with 32 ponds, herd of goats and poultry, but we lack funds to adequately manage what we already have, so we use our own funds to cover running costs and pay up to 40 staff working at the farm but they are not producing that much because the farm is not mechanized. Even when we grow cassava, yams, plantain maize and other crops, taking the harvest to the market place is an- other trouble. Now if we had a farmers market run by associations of farm owners, then you know you are guaranteed to sell your produce at a fair and reasonable price. Beside that the roads within the place and between the nearby towns are in terrible state. The capacity of the farm is more than enough to meet the needs of Oguta, Mgbidi, Orlu and other towns within the environs. But the funds are just not there to expand and operate it optimally. We have workers who are still tilling ground manually, with hoe and digger. How can we still be doing this in 2018? It is just not an efficient farming practice in the 21st century. I am just talking about just one farm that I intimately know.
What about the thousands of other farms all over the country? Wherever, farmers are having the same issues. The government had previously encouraged farmers to form cooperatives, yet they are not getting the assistance they need to grow, develop and increase productivity. I know that the World Bank and other global intervention agencies have shown great interest in supporting food security initiatives, one wonders what has been happening to the funds, because the farmers for who the funds were provided are not getting access to funds. It is quite clear to me that farmers in Nigeria are not being encouraged to ensure food security in the country. This is one of the things that drove me to think about having a conference where other people contending with the challenges of farming in Nigeria and Africa can meet with agro-finance experts who can advise and link them to funding. The second goal is for the participating agri-business entrepreneurs to learn ways to preserve perishable farm produce in accordance with current best practices and avoid wastages.
Please explain in more detail how the conference can redress the problems you have identified? The conference will bring about exposure and create awareness. These two are the low-hanging fruits that farmers quickly benefit from. My hope is that state governments will key in, to nominate a select group of farmers who will ac- company the agriculture com- missioners to the event. There will be an expo and demonstrations of best practices in modern farming, which will be handled by experts selected from Africa and overseas. There will be exhibition of appropriate, low-priced farm technology designed specifically for small-scale farmers. We are expecting state governments to nominate and sponsor a select group of small-scale farmers to participate in the event, to learn about innovations that would enable them boost their productivity. One of the objectives of the event is to kick-start a financing scheme that would enable farmers purchase modern farm technology at affordable cost. We want the government to assure farmers that they can get affordable loans that would help them take what they are doing to the next level.
What strategy would be deployed to achieve your objective? We are looking at partner- ships and collaborations with the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) as a body. And we have been in discussion with the leadership of the NGF, and pitching the great need to strengthen food security by boosting food production through improved farming practices. I must commend what the Lagos State government has done in this regard. I understand that it acquired tracts of land in the Epe and Badagry ends of the state, and gave out good acreages to young people to farm as members of cooperatives. The government granted them subleases on the land assigned to them. I urge other state governments to follow the lead of Lagos State.
As an entrepreneur are you engaged in activities beyond the proposed agriculture conference? Before setting up New Generation Resources Consulting (NGRC), I worked for several years in the New York City government in various managerial capacities. NGRC was incorporated in 2009 in the United States and also registered the same year in Nigeria. I come from an enterprise management background with a doctorate degree in Management and Organizational Leadership. After I set up NGRC, I began to render consultancy services in the area of management and human capital development, to make staff better workers. NGRC was incorporated in 2009 in the United States and also registered the same year in Nigeria. I have been running trainings for the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), National Petroleum In- vestments Management Services (NAPIMS), Port Harcourt Refining Company Limited (PHRC), the Nigeria Local Content Development Board and other private sector corporate organizations. Now I am extending my engagements to the campaign for food security by holding agricultural conferences and agro-technology exhibitions in Africa, starting with Nigeria. Of course, I have been writing a column in the Sunday Sun since 2010. I am very passion- ate about what I do. I have written and published several children’s books. It may interest you to know that the acclaimed Nigerian female writer, Flora Nwapa, was my beloved aunt. I am just committed t o improving humanity with the grace of God.
You mentioned earlier that you have a fish farm with 32 ponds. Interest in aquaculture is increasing. When you look at the Nigerian environment and aquaculture, what thoughts come to your mind?
This issue you just raised will be discussed at the forthcoming conference during one of the sessions with experts in different aspects of agriculture. To say the least, I am deeply disturbed by the rate of growth of environmental pollution in the country. There is no real effort at combating environmental pollution. You find that both surface and sub-surface water resources are being polluted. If the government does not get serious about tackling environmental pollution, I am afraid that in the next 10 to 15 years, nobody will be able to eat fish grown in Nigeria if we continue the way we are going. I think the government should also find a way to apply the whistleblower policy to the issue of environmental pollution.